Reasons Why Diversity Is Not A Trend and Why Mentioning It As Such is Offensive

I am going to take some time out of the monthly theme to talk to you about this thing which is a very important thing to me and to others who are POC/differently abled/differently oriented (sexually). There is nothing, (okay, I am exaggerating because there are some things but for the purpose of this article, let’s pretend there isn’t) that annoys me more than when people mention the increasing diversity in mainstream media and literature, the increasing visibility of POC/sexual orientations/differently abled people in mainstream media and literature as a “trend.”

Um.

No.

I am certain other people have articulated and probably more eloquently than me how offensive it is that representation of your culture/race/ethnicity/sexuality/disabilities is considered a trend. But because I cannot keep my trap shut when my mind wants to write words, I am going to add my $2 to the argument.

It is a bit jarring to sit in a room and be the only person of colour (I can’t speak for a different sexuality but I reckon the experience is much the same) and it can be intimidating to voice an objection to what no one else seems to have a problem with: namely “the diversity trend.” It is also impossible to sit quietly when someone else makes a deprecating remark about a name that obviously belongs to a POC.

Let me explain why referring to diversity as a trend is problematic:

  1. Speaking of diversity as a trend implies that the representation is transient and will end after a period of time. Hint: People of colour, different sexualities, and disabilities aren’t going anywhere no matter how much you wish them to.
  2. The word “trend” trivializes the issue, reducing it to the level of say, dystopian novels. Dystopian novels are a trend; vampires are a trend; diversity is a fact of life.
  3. Referring to diversity as a trend increases the chances of tokenism and commercializes the issue. Instances of cultural appropriation occur when people try to profit off diversity because it is the “thing to do.” So people try to represent people and voices they have no business representing and with no motive in mind except profit. In case you didn’t realize it, this kind of representation is problematic.

People who belong to the hegemonic group are usually not aware of the privilege they have. This may seem like an unnecessarily harsh comment to make but that does not lessen the truth inherent in the statement.

Things To Be Aware Of

  • POC usually cannot be present on book covers without either being in silhouette or having their faces cut off.
  • POC/people with different sexual orientations/disabilities are often killed first whether in movies or books.
  • POC, if present, are often in subservient roles in books/movies. They are always side characters and expendable for all their importance.

Diversity and representation are not transient issues that will fade once the new fad hits the mainstream media. Diversity and representation are issues that are gaining momentum as people grow more aware of their power as consumers. Neo-colonialism exists in complex layers and in multiple places. As we move further into the new millennium and social structure shifts to take into account  newly educated voices who demand to see themselves represented in the culture they, too, consume, diversity becomes imperative.

Unless there’s an earthquake or plague that wipes out all POC and people with different sexuality, and people with disabilities, leaving behind a homogeneous population, diversity, I repeat, is going nowhere. So the next time you go to refer to diversity as a trend? Don’t.

  • “Referring to diversity as a trend increases the chances of tokenism and commercializes the issue. Instances of cultural appropriation occur when people try to profit off diversity because it is the “thing to do.” So people try to represent people and voices they have no business representing and with no motive in mind except profit. In case you didn’t realize it, this kind of representation is problematic.”

    This. So much this! One of the problems I have seen is that the (usually white) crowd who clamor for more diversity do so while trying to set up some straw-past in which no diversity existed. Going by what some of them say, you’d think that there were no non-white, non-straight, non-male authors writing until 30 or 40 years ago. By doing so, they erase the history of those individuals who contributed to corpus of literature and works that featured a diverse range of characters before diversity became “trendy”.

    Demanding diversity is something of a two-edged sword in our current cultural climate: some writers will be accused (or feel accused) of not being “inclusive” in their writing because their work is not “diverse”; those writers will then try to shoe-horn in “diversity” to keep from being called a bigot but then get called out for “doingitwrong”. Ironically, most of this call-out culture is white people getting offending on other people’s behalf because it’s seen as the cool/moral/right thing to do; they are the ones who make a “trend” out of diversity.

  • Here here!

  • Yash

    Ugh, I am so happy you made this post. Much needed. <3

  • Janet

    Marvelous, eloquent post!

  • Amen!

  • Preach! As another person of colour, I completely relate to this post. But would you not say that ‘white’ or ‘straight’ authors may have a harder time creating POC characters and may represent them wrong, thereby pissing off more people? I mean, if I was a writer, I would stick to what I know for sure: my own experiences.

    • This issue gets supremely sticky. I don’t want to tell anyone how to express their creative urges but ultimately I think intent and the respect with which POC characters are written matter. If the intent is simply to have a POC in your cast of characters, that’s tokenism. Or if you’re taking elements from a different culture, selecting what aspects to show and which ones to ignore to further your own goals, that’s problematic as well. Research also matters a ton. And then there are times when you simply shouldn’t take anyone else’s stories no matter what your intention. I actually wrote an entire essay on cultural appropriation, I feel that strongly about it.

  • I was startled by that understanding of trend. It is in the dictionary. “Style of vogue.” But also, the “general course or prevailing tendency.” Which is generally the meaning I’m hoping for when I say “Violent crime is trending down,” or “there’s a trend toward more diversity in representations in mainstream storytelling.”

    But I can clearly see how there can be some troublesome connotations.